Attention, Tuscaloosa department stores: Don't stock up on suits
and sport coats in hopes of outfitting first-year coach Mike
DuBose. The man who wore cutoff jeans and a T-shirt to his first
meeting with Bear Bryant as a player 25 years ago, and whom most
of the Crimson Tide's current players have never seen in
anything but shorts and a casual shirt, is adapting to the
formalities of his new job one step at a time. "It's been a
long-standing tradition around here that the head coach wear a
nice coat and tie on the sidelines," says DuBose, a former 'Bama
defensive lineman and the Tide's defensive line coach from 1990
to '96. "For now it's just going to be a shirt and tie."
To achieve his goal of winning the SEC West, DuBose will have to
dress up a defense stripped of its entire linebacking
crew--including conference defensive player of the year Dwayne
Rudd, who bolted for the NFL--and All-America strong safety
Kevin Jackson, who graduated. The departures leave senior
All-SEC tackle Michael Myers to face a season's worth of double
and triple teams, a fact that worries neither the 6'3",
270-pound Myers nor his coach. "I'll get 20 sacks this year,"
says Myers, who had eight sacks and 13 tackles for losses, both
team highs, last season. Adds DuBose: "I'll be disappointed if
he doesn't have a better year."
Myers's easy transition from Hinds Community College in
Mississippi to Division I last season was a key to the Tide's
7-0 start, which briefly lifted Alabama to No. 6 in the nation.
Peyton Manning and Tennessee then dashed 'Bama's national-title
hopes with two fourth-quarter touchdown strikes that rallied the
Volunteers to a 20-13 win. "I'm keeping my eye on the Tennessee
game this year," says Myers, who helped limit Manning to 176
passing yards. "We had them last year and let them get away."
In an effort to keep up with flashy conference foes like
Tennessee and LSU, DuBose hired former New Orleans Saints
quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians to boost a passing attack that
ranked near the bottom of the SEC in almost every statistical
category last season. Senior quarterback Freddie Kitchens and
the team's top receiver, junior wideout Michael Vaughn, hooked
up only 39 times for 702 yards and six touchdowns, which was far
too infrequently for DuBose's tastes.
Arians's attempts to help develop the skills of Kitchens, the
conference's seventh-rated quarterback a year ago, could be
hampered by an inexperienced line that will carry two newcomers,
sophomore tackle Jason McDonald and senior center Michael Ray,
neither of whom has a start to his credit. Until the pieces of
the upgraded passing attack jell, Kitchens will have to rely on
senior halfback Dennis Riddle, the team's leading rusher with
For some Tide enthusiasts, the prospect of an Alabama air show
is as likely as DuBose's sporting a tuxedo on game days.
"Wide-open offense, uh-huh," Myers says sarcastically. "Well,
maybe they'll surprise us."
23.0 Percentage of third-down conversions (39 of 169) allowed
last season by the Alabama defense, the lowest in the SEC.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
OCT. 18 VS. TENNESSEE The Tide ranked eighth in the nation in
total defense (255.6 yards per game) in '96. It will have to be
at least that good against the explosive Vols.
NOV. 22 AT AUBURN Alabama won last year's Iron Bowl 24-23 and
leads the series 35-25-11.
Passing Freddie Kitchens Sr. 152 comp., 302 att.,
2,124 yds., 14 TDs
Rushing Dennis Riddle Sr. 1,079 yds., 11 TDs
Receiving Michael Vaughn Jr. 39 catches, 702 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles DT Michael Myers Sr. 66
Interceptions CB Fernando Bryant Jr. 3